Isaiah Chapters 1-4: Work as Worship
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
The prophet Isaiah’s career extended through four kings in the southern kingdom of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Isaiah served as God’s emissary speaking for him for more than fifty years. His prophecy preceded the other three major writing prophets — Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel by approximately 150 years.
Today’s reading comes from Isaiah’s vision opening the prophecy. Isaiah delivers a strong message of God’s judgment. He warned Israel’s leaders that they could not praise God with their lips but do something altogether different with their work. Isaiah also delivers a message of hope for Jerusalem in the passage.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Isaiah Chapters 1-4, we will open with Psalm 145 in prayer.
A Praise of David.
I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
5 I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
6 Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
7 They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
9 The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall praise You, O Lord,
And Your saints shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me;
3 The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.”
4 Alas, sinful nation,
A people laden with iniquity,
A brood of evildoers,
Children who are corrupters!
They have forsaken the Lord,
They have provoked to anger
The Holy One of Israel,
They have turned away backward.
5 Why should you be stricken again?
You will revolt more and more.
The whole head is sick,
And the whole heart faints.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,
There is no soundness in it,
But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores;
They have not been closed or bound up,
Or soothed with ointment.
7 Your country is desolate,
Your cities are burned with fire;
Strangers devour your land in your presence;
And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
8 So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard,
As a hut in a garden of cucumbers,
As a besieged city.
9 Unless the Lord of hosts
Had left to us a very small remnant,
We would have become like Sodom,
We would have been made like Gomorrah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
12 “When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
13 Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword”;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
21 How the faithful city has become a harlot!
It was full of justice;
Righteousness lodged in it,
But now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
Your wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebellious,
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves bribes,
And follows after rewards.
They do not defend the fatherless,
Nor does the cause of the widow come before them.
24 Therefore the Lord says,
The Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel,
“Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries,
And take vengeance on My enemies.
25 I will turn My hand against you,
And thoroughly purge away your dross,
And take away all your alloy.
26 I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”
27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice,
And her penitents with righteousness.
28 The destruction of transgressors and of sinners shall be together,
And those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees
Which you have desired;
And you shall be embarrassed because of the gardens
Which you have chosen.
30 For you shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fades,
And as a garden that has no water.
31 The strong shall be as tinder,
And the work of it as a spark;
Both will burn together,
And no one shall quench them.
This is the word that I, Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And it shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
5 O house of Jacob, come and let us walk
In the light of the Lord.
6 For You have forsaken Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with eastern ways;
They are soothsayers like the Philistines,
And they are pleased with the children of foreigners.
7 Their land is also full of silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures;
Their land is also full of horses,
And there is no end to their chariots.
8 Their land is also full of idols;
They worship the work of their own hands,
That which their own fingers have made.
9 People bow down,
And each man humbles himself;
Therefore do not forgive them.
10 Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty.
11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled,
The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down,
And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.
12 For the day of the Lord of hosts
Shall come upon everything proud and lofty,
Upon everything lifted up—
And it shall be brought low—
13 Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up,
And upon all the oaks of Bashan;
14 Upon all the high mountains,
And upon all the hills that are lifted up;
15 Upon every high tower,
And upon every fortified wall;
16 Upon all the ships of Tarshish,
And upon all the beautiful sloops.
17 The loftiness of man shall be bowed down,
And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low;
The Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
18 But the idols He shall utterly abolish.
19 They shall go into the holes of the rocks,
And into the caves of the earth,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily.
20 In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver
And his idols of gold,
Which they made, each for himself to worship,
To the moles and bats,
21 To go into the clefts of the rocks,
And into the crags of the rugged rocks,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily.
22 Sever yourselves from such a man,
Whose breath is in his nostrils;
For of what account is he?
For behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts,
Takes away from Jerusalem and from Judah
The stock and the store,
The whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water;
2 The mighty man and the man of war,
The judge and the prophet,
And the diviner and the elder;
3 The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the skillful artisan,
And the expert enchanter.
4 “I will give children to be their princes,
And babes shall rule over them.
5 The people will be oppressed,
Every one by another and every one by his neighbor;
The child will be insolent toward the elder,
And the base toward the honorable.”
6 When a man takes hold of his brother
In the house of his father, saying,
“You have clothing;
You be our ruler,
And let these ruins be under your power,”
7 In that day he will protest, saying,
“I cannot cure your ills,
For in my house is neither food nor clothing;
Do not make me a ruler of the people.”
8 For Jerusalem stumbled,
And Judah is fallen,
Because their tongue and their doings
Are against the Lord,
To provoke the eyes of His glory.
9 The look on their countenance witnesses against them,
And they declare their sin as Sodom;
They do not hide it.
Woe to their soul!
For they have brought evil upon themselves.
10 “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them,
For they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him,
For the reward of his hands shall be given him.
12 As for My people, children are their oppressors,
And women rule over them.
O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err,
And destroy the way of your paths.”
13 The Lord stands up to plead,
And stands to judge the people.
14 The Lord will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
“For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor?”
Says the Lord God of hosts.
16 Moreover the Lord says:
“Because the daughters of Zion are haughty,
And walk with outstretched necks
And wanton eyes,
Walking and mincing as they go,
Making a jingling with their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion,
And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.”
18 In that day the Lord will take away the finery:
The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents;
19 The pendants, the bracelets, and the veils;
20 The headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands;
The perfume boxes, the charms,
21 and the rings;
The nose jewels,
22 the festal apparel, and the mantles;
The outer garments, the purses,
23 and the mirrors;
The fine linen, the turbans, and the robes.
24 And so it shall be:
Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench;
Instead of a sash, a rope;
Instead of well-set hair, baldness;
Instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.
25 Your men shall fall by the sword,
And your mighty in the war.
26 Her gates shall lament and mourn,
And she being desolate shall sit on the ground.
And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying,
“We will eat our own food and wear our own apparel;
Only let us be called by your name,
To take away our reproach.”
2 In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious;
And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing
For those of Israel who have escaped.
3 And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, 5 then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. 6 And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.
Pause For Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
Work as Worship
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Isaiah
The Prophet Isaiah received a vision of God — of his great power, his glorious majesty, and his purifying holiness. When we glimpse who God is in Scripture, it can cleanse away our inflated self-importance and the insufficiency of our lip-service in worship. But it also can give us a clear picture of what is truly valuable in this life. It changes the way we live, the way we do business and the way we worship. When we understand who God is and where we stand in relation to him, we come out different people in our values and our work ethic.
The bulk of the book of Isaiah consists of the prophet Isaiah giving voice to God’s assessment of Israel’s failure to live up to the covenant between God and Israel. Through Moses, God entered a covenant with his people. He promised them security, peace and prosperity, secured by his presence among them. They promised him worship and observance of the law he gave them. Isaiah, like the other writing prophets after him, proclaims the people’s — and especially the leaders’ — failure to obey God’s law.
According to Isaiah 1:1, the prophet Isaiah’s career extended through the reigns of four kings in the southern kingdom of Judah. While the political scene in Judah was different from that in the northern kingdom of Israel, the sins of the people were distressingly similar: idol worship, the oppression and marginalization of the poor for personal gain, and business practices that fundamentally threatened God’s Law. Like his contemporary Amos, Isaiah clearly saw that lip-service worship leads to self-serving social ethics.
In Isaiah’s writings, there is an integral connection between our worship and our work life. Isaiah begins by insisting that religious rituals nauseate God when accompanied by sinful living:
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts…Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11–17)
The catastrophe Isaiah later predicts comes as a direct result of the nation’s oppression of workers and lack of provision for those in economic need.
In our world today in which our daily work seems disconnected from our weekend worship, God says, “If you know my Law and love me, you will not mistreat workers in the workplace.” Isaiah knew from personal experience that a genuine vision of God changes our lives, including how we behave in the workplace.
A recurring charge throughout the book of Isaiah is that the leaders were unfaithful to God’s covenant because they pursued wealth and status at the expense of the marginalized and the poor. As the people of God, they were called to be different from the surrounding and competing cultures. The exploitation of the poor for the advancement of the social elite was a breach of God’s covenant claims on his people.
God’s concern for justice and righteousness leads him today to judge nations, corporations and individuals who defraud and deceive others for personal gain. In our day, we see exploitation of entire nations by their own leaders. Just as significantly, we see — and engage in — seemingly minor injustices such as unfair compensation, excessive workloads, oppressive contract terms and conditions, and looking the other way when abuse occurs at home, at work, in church and on the street. God will ultimately judge those who gain wealth or preserve their jobs or privileges by exploiting the poor and marginalized.